Is there anything more attractive to the modern man than some good old fashion drama? You’re right, Taylor Swift’s new album. But, anyway, in the eyes of the conglomeration consuming entertainment, It’d be hard to argue otherwise. How often do shows or movie franchises drag on and the only new element is, who doesn’t like who anymore? That isn’t inherently a bad thing, but the fact stands, drama sells.
Let me ask you another question. If you were put on the stand, could you name a show of the past ten years that will hold the standard for its respective genre? Go on, don’t be scared. Tell me that CW’s Supergirl defined the quality of superheroes on the silver screen. Okay, okay, “Leading the witness,” you got me.
In continuation of this mindset, I’ve recently found myself disappointed in TV. I mean, I love a lot of modern shows, but I’m not sure how many of them will stand the test of time. With my most recent binge, I think I’ve found an outlier.
After a case going south, leaving his powerful law firm Cooperman & McBride in the rearview mirror of his 1966 Ford Mustang convertible, Amazon Prime’s Goliath follows down-on-his-luck lawyer Billy McBride. Who when we meet in the first season, could name all the drinks he had the night before, then the client he’s representing. When presented with the opportunity to help on a possible wrongful death lawsuit, against his old law firm, he uncovers there could be more at play than initially expected.
There’s a lot here that instantly reminded me of other shows. The conspiracy element introduced in each season and how it all connects is very much in the same vein as Longmire, and similar to that show, what makes Goliath stand out is its characters, especially the lead. Billy Bob Thorton shines on screen as McBride, and it doesn’t do any favors to his competitors as the writing is fantastic. Throughout the show, we see him grow and evolve from a man into a legendary lawyer. His relationship with the side stars is a perfect example of this. He forms sort of a family with his new law team and everything isn’t always perfect between them.
The clashing ideas found between the leads feel earned and realistic. Two characters, Patty, the lawyer who initially sought out McBride’s advice and help, and Brittany, a prostitute on parole turned Legal aid for McBride, show this very well. In season one, through the subtext, we can see they aren’t the greatest friends, and when the opposing side brings Britanny forward as a witness, to show Mcbride in a bad light, trust between them shatters for the next few seasons. Rather than just having characters argue and then the rest of the episode plays out, the choices of each character directly impact the events of the story.
One element that makes McBride stand out as a lead is his respect, yet disregard for the law. He understands his scope of practice very well and knows just the right buttons to push to get what he needs out of a judge or a witness. As a viewer it lets us get invested as we are trying to answer the same questions the writers seem to be asking, why does McBride do it? Why does he take on huge corporations with only slim chances of winning? This question is showing what the show becomes about, even if it isn’t what was intended. Which is a good thing in this ‘case’ as we finally understand by his last case in season four, does he fight for the side he believes or the one that will get him paid?
Another clear, huge inspiration for the show was the 1960s detective classic, Columbo. In that practically teach episode focused on how the villain tries to get away from the crime, with detective Columbo being more a cameo than a main character. Here, we can see how using different perspectives adds to the suspense of each season in an exciting fashion.
To start, we do see the villain’s side of each case, add it makes the show extravagant. There are multiple times when we see exactly how the defense is going to lie or find a way to stop McBride and it hurts when it works. Seeing conversations in which you, as the viewer, know the bad guys are lying makes you want to yell at the TV screen to call them out. Luckily, with a character as well written as McBride, we don’t always know what’s going on in his head, so when he finds a way to refute outrageous accusations it is incredibly satisfying.
Something that makes the show stand out is that the good guys don’t always win every episode. They struggle, and there are entire episodes dedicated to finding one piece of evidence. Again, when we know why he didn’t win, or how the other side went down the path of loss, it brings a unique quality to the courtroom drama.
The family angle helps the story feel more grounded as well. While there was a time McBride was a hotshot lawyer, he’s now divorced and having custody problems with his daughter, Denice. He’s not a prime example of a father figure, which only adds to the stress for him. What makes this fun is when he thinks he’s making steps forward with his relationship with Denice, she views these attempts at parenting very differently.
The aesthetics of each season provide insight into the world, and tone of the show. the first 2 seasons deal with corruption in law and politics taking place in LA, with Mcbride living in a hotel because it’s right next to his favorite bar. What we might be able to take from this is that the show is trying to bring a grounded look to the Hollywood dream, and the dangers associated with that said dream.
The third season takes place in the Central Valley of California and sees McBride going up against a small-town family business, seemingly controlling the water of a local town. From the color grading and framing it’s clear the tone was that of the Neo-Western. Making The famed lawyer feel more like a sheriff, on the hunt for an outlaw.
Its final season travels to San Fransisco, battling major drug corporations, and it has my favorite change to the series in this regard for 2 main reasons. The first is the use of dream sequences, which are shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, giving them an old film, and at times, eerie feeling. The second is the cinematography when walking around the city itself. The use of static, eye-level shots makes San Francisco feel like its own character. Lighting also makes the tone of the show that of Blade Runner or a futuristic city. The Bay area feels foreign to Mcbride, so, with the use of the camera angles and lighting, it feels foreign to the viewer as well.
At the end of the day, when we examine the case files of Billy McBride & Company, Goliath proves through stellar character development, approach to storytelling, and a unique atmosphere, that, when writers try, it’s still possible to add a positive impact on the silver screen without destroying it. Court adjourned.